10 reasons why you should visit Tirana

by Feb 24, 2022

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Albania’s capital used to be at the top of Europe’s worst cities lists regularly. Due to Stalinist rule, Tirana has been grey and desolate for decades, with a lack of infrastructure and services. The fall of communism in 1992 only exacerbated the situation, as chaos descended on the city and crime began to rise. That is no longer the case. Here are ten compelling reasons to visit Albania’s capital.

Although it is often chaotic, Tirana is now a charming little city and Albania’s cultural, entertainment, and political centre. Tirana, home to a rapidly growing population of nearly one million people (Albania’s total population is estimated to be around three million), has a buzz that you won’t find anywhere else in this enthralling country.

To experience Albanian hospitality

Being invited for coffee or rakija (a plum brandy) is a local custom, and Albanians are friendly to foreign visitors. People were fascinated by the influx of visitors cut off from the rest of the world in the twentieth century.

For the colour of the region

Due to its small size, it can easily cover Tirana’s central area in a day. However, in addition to a leisurely exploration of the city’s museums, monuments, historic buildings, and parks, make time to marvel at the city’s concrete housing estates. Yes, truly. They add colour to a monochrome cityscape by being painted in rainbow colours.

In the context of cafés and food culture

Albania may not be known for its cuisine, but that is no reason not to prioritise it. Look for good coffee and beer (Islam is the dominant religion, but it is practised effortlessly), as well as decent pastries and gelato. Cafés, set to a soundtrack of Albanian and Euro-pop, are also ideal for people-watching. If you want to make sure you get a chance to try all of the delicious traditional food Tirana has to offer, make sure to book one of the food tours.

Skanderbeg Square offers a history lesson

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana’s centre is named after the national hero who briefly ensured Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century. In the centre of the square is a giant bronze statue of Skanderbeg on horseback (imagine Alexander The Great meets Thor), and in the southeast corner is the Et’hem Bey Mosque, one of the nation’s most treasured buildings dating back to the late eighteenth century. The National Historical Museum, adorned with a massive socialist mural of victorious partisans, is also located here.

A visit to a not-so-ancient pyramid

Piramida, Tirana’s concrete pyramid, is a short walk from Skanderbeg Square. Built-in 1987 as a memorial to her father by the daughter of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, it now sits derelict, stripped of the tiles that once covered it and splattered with graffiti. There are plans to demolish it, but some argue that it should be preserved as a fitting memorial to Stalinism’s heinous spirit.

Observing Albania’s elite at work

Blloku, or The Block, was Enver Hoxha’s residence and was restricted to only the Communist Party’s inner circle. It is now the epicentre of Tirana’s beautiful people. There are high-end hotels, designer cafés, restaurants, and shops today. Take in the modern glitz of Sky Club, a rotating bar high in the air with 360-degree views of the city.

In terms of nightlife

Tirana’s nightlife continues to improve year after year, and the city’s clubs, mainly concentrated around Blloku, vary greatly in theme and atmosphere. They’re best visited with the help of a local who knows which ones to go to. Keep in mind, however, that Albania is still a traditional society.

To unwind in Parku I Madh (Grand Park)

Many Tirana residents visit this large, wooded park for a bit of relaxation, whether it’s fishing in the artificial lake, picnicking on the lawns, or relaxing in one of the many café-bars. Given how congested Tirana’s traffic can be, this park allows the city’s Mediterranean vibe to shine through.

Mount Dajti National Park should be visited

If you want to get away from the city, visit Mount Dajti National Park, famous among Tirana residents for its fresh air and countryside walks. You can take an Austrian-built cable car (expensive) or the city bus (cheap), and once there, there are hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants if you want to stay overnight.

For day trips to the beach

For decades, the powerful in Tirana went to the historic city of Durrsi on the Adriatic Sea to relax (both Enver Hoxha and King Zog had holiday homes here). Nowadays, most visitors are Kosovars who take advantage of the numerous low-cost hotels and restaurants along the seafront. Durrsi is rough and ready but lively, cheap, and easily accessible.